CD Disposal: Can You Recycle Old CDs & DVDs?

CDs and DVDs – if you’re anything like most people, your home is probably full of them! But what happens when you have unwanted ones? Can they go in the recycling?

Yes and no. The component materials which CDs and DVDs are made of are recyclable, but it is difficult to separate them. For this reason, you can’t put them in your recycling bins for collection. But, there are specialist recycling services that can recycle them, so you certainly shouldn’t put them in your waste either!

Let’s find out more…

What are CDs and DVDs made of?

A CD/DVD is made of both metal and plastic. The bulk of the CD is made from a plastic called polycarbonate. There is then a thin layer of aluminum (sometimes gold is used instead), and then on top of that is a protective layer of plastic and lacquer.

Polycarbonate plastics are transparent and provide high optical clarity. Although they are commercially available in a choice of colors, the plastic used in CDs & DVDs allows light to pass through it very much in the same way that glass would. Despite being very strong, these plastics are fully recyclable and produce a profitable yield for plastic recyclers.

The other main component, aluminum, is the most recycled material on the market today. It is easy to recycle and can be put through recycling over and over again. Nearly 75% of US-produced aluminum is recycled.

CD/DVD cases are made out of polystyrene (yep, the same materials as many food containers – although it looks completely different). Polystyrene can also be recycled.

However, although the component materials in a CD/DVD are easily recyclable and profitable to recycle, the materials are fused together and not easy to break apart. Because of the issues of separating the materials, DVD/CDs are not acceptable in a single stream recycling process and can’t be put in your recycling bins for collection.

Unfortunately, this means that many of these products end up in the trash instead, even though there are specialist recycling services available that can turn waste discs into new products.

How are CDs and DVDs Recycled?

The recycling process involves putting the CDs into a special machine called a granulator (the waste boxes are put in a different recycling machine as they’re made from a different type of plastic). This machine shreds the discs into very small powdery fragments. 

These fragments are then loaded into a special machine that will remove any ink residue metal and lacquer. Coming out the other end is 99.5% clean polycarbonate ready to be reused again in other products. Your CD might end up as a mobile phone, in traffic lights, used as cladding, as more discs, or in many other items.

3 Reasons You Should Avoid Throwing Away Your CDs & DVDs

Reason #1: Plastic lasts forever (almost)

Plastic does not biodegrade, so if you throw your CD or DVD in the waste, it will sit in the ground forever. It is estimated that it will take 1 million years for a single CD to completely decompose in a landfill. It’s highly likely that your plastic waste will outlast the human race – if this isn’t a good argument against disposal, we don’t know what is.

Reason #2: CD/DVDs can release toxic chemicals if incinerated

Plastic waste that finds its way into incinerators results in the release of toxic chemicals into the atmosphere. These include dioxins, hydrochloric acid, and sulfur dioxide. Polycarbonate, the material used in making DVD/CDs, is thought to be particularly bad for our health because it includes BPA (bisphenol A), which has been shown to be very dangerous.

Reason #3: The more we waste, the more we make

Finally, throwing away your CDs and DVDs only increases our need for more. Making 30 new DVDs takes 30 cubic feet of natural gas, 0.47 liters of crude oil, and 24 gallons of water. Making these products is draining out natural resources.

How To Dispose of CDs and DVDs

You as an individual have the responsibility for ensuring that your waste does not pollute the land, pollute the air, or use unnecessary and increasingly scarce resources. Remember, it is not just music CDs and DVDs that are part of this problem; millions of boxes of software go to landfills every year as well.

You have three options:

1. Reduce

Reduce the demand for CD/DVDs. Download software and games and subscribe to streaming services for your music and movies. If you need to buy blank CDs or DVDs, buy ones that can be rewritten, so you can use them again and again. 

2. Recycle

Don’t put your CDs and DVDs in the waste disposal. Instead, send them to a specialist company for recycling.

The company that we suggest that works internationally is Terracycle. Terracycle has a wide range of  waste recycling services, including electronic recycling, plastic recycling programs, and CD/DVD programs. They’ve raised more than $44 million for charity through their recycling efforts and their programs operate worldwide.

If you are in the USA you may also want to check the CD Recycling Center of America and their program.

3. Reuse

If you are finished with it, try giving unwanted discs away to someone else (or a charity store) rather than putting it in the trash. Shopping for second-hand items is also a good idea. This is better than recycling because it doesn’t use any energy or other resources.

You can also reuse CDs in craft projects. Here are a few options:

Mosaics

If you place them in a bowl of nearly boiling water and leave them there for ten minutes, the discs will soften. You can then use scissors to cut the softened discs into any shape you want. These pieces can then be used to make attractive mosaics that can be attached to tabletops, walls, or other pieces of furniture.

Coasters

Cover your discs with material of your choosing to turn them into chic coasters that you can reuse again and again.

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